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Why Liberal Journalists Don't Cover Race Honestly
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Unless you’ve been in a coma you must have noticed that there’s a lot of talk these days about “white privilege” and “white supremacy.” Maybe it’s me, but lumping all white people together sounds a lot like the stereotyping progressives and others have rightly condemned. I could never figure out, for example, how the son of a white Anglo Saxon Protestant coal miner in West Virginia has more privilege than the child of a black doctor or lawyer -- or news anchorman for that matter, like one I used to work with who stated on national television that “racism is everywhere.” Bryant Gumbel said that last December on HBO’s “Real Sports” year-end show, in case you were wondering.
“Everywhere” is a pretty big place but that didn’t seem to faze my former colleague. But whether he thinks racism is everywhere or not, in a country of some 330 million people, some racism, unfortunately, still exists. And the world that Bryant and I have inhabited for many decades, the world of journalism, doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to race – and not only historically.
In the bad old days of segregation a lot of white-owned newspapers were cheerleaders for white supremacy. And too many journalists didn’t really care about black-on-black crime in minority neighborhoods. We’ve come a long way since Jim Crow. But in a perverse way journalists still decide what kind of stories get covered and what kind are downplayed or flat-out ignored – when they involve race.
Here’s how 84-year old civil rights activist Robert L. Woodson recently put it in the Wall Street Journal:
“Are only white people capable of hate crimes? If you get all your news from mainstream media sources, that’s what you’d think. A 51-year-old black man allegedly stabbing a 12-year-old white boy in Pittsburgh while shouting racial epithets barely made national news. The same was true when a black man was arrested for savagely beating a 65-year-old Asian woman in Midtown Manhattan. We saw endless coverage of the despicable assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, but when a 25-year-old black male allegedly killed a Capitol police officer [in early April], MSNBC erroneously reported the suspect was white.”
I can tell you from more than 50 years as a journalist – 28 of those years as a correspondent with CBS News – that journalists working for network TV newscasts (and other left of center national news organizations) shy away from stories that involve crime when both the perpetrators and the victims are black. They also shy away from stories about fatherlessness in black America – even though that’s a serious issue that leads to all sorts of social problems and is a bigger reason for inequality today than racism. There is a desperate need among too many journalists on the left to show that they’re the good white people, the enlightened ones who aren’t racists – so they play down stories about dysfunction in black neighborhoods that they fear might give ammunition to white bigots.
There are weekends when it would be safer to walk down the streets of Kabul in Afghanistan than go outside in parts of Chicago. But the same journalists who salivate at the opportunity to report about white police officers who kill African American young men – an important and legitimate news story -- would prefer not to go anywhere near the story about the epidemic of black-on-black gun violence in places like Chicago and Baltimore – even though that’s also an important and legitimate news story.
And journalists also display what the black scholar Shelby Steele calls their “good racial manners” by going easy on “woke” CEOs who sign petitions protesting supposed voter suppression in Georgia, which they apparently see as racist – or in the words of our president, as “Jim Crow on steroids.” But on those other matters involving race – crime, fatherlessness -- those same CEOs and their like-minded allies in the media are not outspoken. What they are is timid.
To use one easy example, journalists almost never report that young black men in America are at much greater risk of being shot by other young black men than by a rogue white cop, even though it’s an indisputable fact. And I haven’t heard anything about that from those woke CEOs either.
Writing and yapping on liberal cable news channels about “systemic racism” and “white privilege” will never get a journalist in trouble. Nor will pretending that only white people can be guilty of hate crimes.
But, as Robert Woodson points out “Every tragic police killing of a black person is amplified by radical progressives to accuse police of white supremacy and to push for defunding and anarchy. The more law-enforcement officers we lose to defunding, early retirements and drastic drops in recruitment, the fewer we have to patrol lower-income neighborhoods. Homicides among lower-income minorities soar. Meanwhile, the cries of the 81% of blacks who oppose defunding the police are chronically ignored.”
If we really believe that black lives matter, we should take those words seriously. Because, as Woodson says, “The loudest advocates of defunding the police don’t have to live with the consequence of their advocacy.”
That’s something journalists who shy away from inconvenient stories involving race might want to think about.